A beautiful song

Every now and then I do a digression from my main blog topic of translating menus in Spain to something else, in this case some music from Spain. In my attempt to actually learn Spanish many sources suggest using a variety of techniques, not just a single method of learning. And one, of course, is listening to videos, in Spanish.

Fortunately here on our cable, plus with Netflix and Amazon Prime there are a many programs, some originally in English, that are in Spanish, sometimes with closed captions (more literal than subtitles). But perhaps the most challenging listening assignments is trying to hear the vocals of Spanish language songs. Now actually I often can’t hear the lyrics in English language songs so this is especially challenging for me. While words are not so clear in songs, however, one advantage is that the speed is much slower than listening to spoken Spanish, especially news programs.

The first time I tried to listen to a song was a consequence of stumbling on a Spanish audio version of the movie Desperado with Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek on cable. While almost all the actors have Spanish has their first language the movie was actually made in English. Despite its heavy dose of violence I’ve watched the English version several times. Watching the version on a Spanish channel  was amusing seeing it dubbed into Spanish and with closed captions, given it takes place in Mexico with Spanish speaking actors.

But the part that really got my attention was the opening scene with Banderas singing (if it was him). A bit of searching led to discovering the song he’s singing is Cancion del Mariachi and there is a video on YouTube of this opening scene. Doing a variety of searches I found the lyrics, in Spanish, and various English translations (some pretty bad, a few amusingly not very literal). I merged these lyrics, plus the Google Translate (embedded at end of this post) and then re-watched the video. The first time, with the visual guide, I heard almost every word and after a few more tries I could completely follow the song. Unfortunately, take away my visual cues and I don’t hear so much, which is an interesting lesson in itself.

So that was fun but just background for this post. Later I found another “advice on learning” source that suggested listening to music on radio or YouTube. And they gave several links and that’s how I discovered this song which I really like. At first I was confused thinking Ella Baila Sola was part of the song title but I later learned this was a very popular female duet from Spain. The song itself was titled: Cuando los sapos bailen flamenco. I could translate all but sapos and didn’t believe it when almost the only choice (in multiple dictionaries) was ‘toads’, so When the Toads Dance Flamenco. I then figured this was some kind of expression like “chickens have come home to roost” in English or Hablando del rey de Roma (speak of the devil). But, alas, I can’t find any meaning for the title, so it just must be words the writer chose.

So if you try to play the YouTube (it’s short and very nice song, IMHO) here are some lyrcis to go along with it and you can try to follow the words. And, for me, after nearly 500 days of trying to learn Spanish I do most of the words but can’t follow the song without my visual guide, so my audible skills are way inferior to my reading skills, but other than recordings I do zero conversation in Spanish which is pretty critical to ever developing verbal skills.

Good Spanish transcript Google Translate Good Human translation
Me alegra tanto oir tu voz aunque dormido I’m so glad to hear your voice even though asleep It’s so good to hear your voice although you’re asleep
por fin viajabas como en tus sueños you were finally traveling like in your dreams You were finally travelling like in your dreams,
buscando un sitio para volver looking for a place to come back looking for a place to go back to
y sin poder olvidar lo que dejas lo que has aprendido and without being able to forget what you leave what you have learned And without being able to forget what you’ve left, what you’ve learnt
van a cambiar las caras los sueños, los días y yo the faces will change the dreams, the days and I Faces, dreams, days are going to change and
lentamente te pierdo I slowly lose you I slowly lose you
Repeat: Como un regalo que al ensuciarse tiró quien limpiaba Repeat: Like a gift that when dirty was thrown by the one who cleaned Like a gift that when gets dirty and is thrown away by the one who is cleaning
como un vaso después de beber el trago más dulce like a glass after drinking the sweetest drink Like a glass after drinking the sweetest gulp
con un adiós, con un te quiero y con mis labios en tus dedos with a goodbye, with a love you and with my lips on your fingers With a goodbye, with an I love you and with my lips in your fingers
para no pronunciar las palabras que dan tanto miedo, so as not to pronounce the words that are so scary, To not say the words that are so frightening,
te vas y te pierdo you go and I lose you you go and I lose you
Me alegra tanto escuchar tus promesas mientras te alejas I’m so glad to hear your promises as you walk away It’s so good to hear your promises while you go away
saber que piensas volver algún día cuando los sapos bailen flamenco knowing that you plan to return someday when the toads dance flamenco Knowing that you plan to come back when toads dance flamenco
y yo te espero ya ves, aunque no entiendo bien que los sapos and I wait for you you see, although I do not understand well that the toads And I wait for you, you see, although I don’t quite understand that toads
puedan dejar de saltar y bailar lejos de su charco they can stop jumping and dancing away from their puddle can stop jumping and dancing far from their pool
Porque mis ojos brillan con tu cara y ahora que no te veo se apagan Because my eyes shine with your face and now that I don’t see you they go out Because my eyes shine with your face and now that I don’t see you they turn off
porque prefiero que estés a mi lado aunque no tengas nada because I prefer you to be by my side even if you have nothing Because I prefer you being beside me although you haven’t got anything,
te vas y te pierdo you go and I lose you you go and I lose you
(back to repeat) (does repeat)  


So here’s a similar kind of transcript for Cancion del Mariachi

Spanish (very close match to song) merge of several human xlates Google Translate
Soy un hombre muy honrado I am a man of honour I am a very honest man
Que me gusta lo mejor And I fancy what is best That I like the best
Por mujeres no me falta I don’t miss women For women I do not lack
Ni el dinero ni el amor Neither money nor love. Neither the money nor the love
Jineteando en mi caballo Riding on my horse Hustling on my horse
Por la sierra yo me voy I am off to the mountain. By the mountains I go
Las estrellas y la luna And the stars and the moon The stars and the moon
Ellas me dicen donde voy Tell me where to go. They tell me where I’m going
Ay, ay, ay, ay Ay ay ay ay! Ay, ay, ay, ay
Ay, ay, amor Ay ay love Oh, oh, love
Ay mi morena Ay my dark lady Oh my brunette
De mi corazon Of my heart From my heart
Me gusta tocar guitarra I like to play guitar I like playing guitar
Me gusta cantar el “song” I like to sing the ‘song’ I like to sing the “song”
Mariachi me acompaña Mariachi accompanies me Mariachi is with me
Cuando canto mi cancion when I sing my song When I sing my song
Me gusta tomar mis copas I like to drink my drinks I like to take my drinks
Agua ardiente selo mejor moonshine is the best Burning water is better
Tambien el tequila blanco Also white tequila, Also white tequila
Con su saleda sabor with its salty taste With its salty flavor
Ay, ay, ay, ay Ay ay ay ay! Ay, ay, ay, ay
Ay, ay, amor Ay ay my love Oh, oh, love
Ay mi morena Ay my dark lady Oh my brunette
De mi corazon of my heart From my heart
(long guitar solo)    
Me gusta tocar guitarra I like to play guitar I like playing guitar
Me gusta cantar el “song” I like to sing the ‘song’ I like to sing the “song”
Mariachi me acompaña The mariachi accompanies me Mariachi is with me
Cuando canto mi cancion when I sing my song When I sing my song
Me gusta tomar mis copas I like to drink my drinks I like to take my drinks
Agua ardiente selo mejor moonshine is the best Burning water is better
Tambien el tequila blanco also white tequila, Also white tequila
Con su saleda sabor with its salty taste With its salty flavor
Ay, ay, ay, ay Ay ay ay ay! Ay, ay, ay, ay
Ay, ay, amor Ay ay my love Oh, oh, love
Ay mi morena Ay my dark lady Oh my brunette
De mi corazon of my heart From my heart
Ay, ay, ay, ay Ay ay ay ay! Ay, ay, ay, ay
Ay, ay, amor Ay ay love Oh, oh, love
Ay mi morena Ay my dark lady Oh my brunette
De mi corazon Of my heart From my heart

A simple hostal menu

I picked up my virtual trek pace a bit and so zoomed out of León. The GPS trace I found online splits just west of León and merges again at Hospital de Órbigo, about 20 miles from middle of León. I “took” the northern route and so passed through Villadangos del Paramo. There I found Hostal (guesthouse or hostel) Libertad (freedom or liberty) which has an embedded restaurant. While there was no website or online menu there was a photo of the menu on a chalkboard. I decided it would be interesting if I could translate it myself without the aid of any machine translation. However it was a bit of a ‘cheat’ because the menu had some minimal English translation also written in.

I don’t normally reproduce images in my posts that I find via Google Maps. But this is a simple image and I’m not appropriating any intellectual property by posting it. Furthermore if any of you Dear Readers happen to pass through Villadangos del Paramo I’m probably the Hostal Libertad, which I assume they won’t mind.

Somehow, after running this image through Photoshop and then WordPress it’s not as clear as I saw, but it gets the point across. It’s a bit difficult to read the handwritten script under the best of cases. But also I had a tough time distinguishing a’s for e’s. So the point is, really, that one needs to know the words internally so an ambiguous writing of the word still gets through.

So anyway here’s the fairly simple menu:

Menú del día    10€

That’s not too bad if the portions are large to feed a hungry pilgrim who’s just walked 25km.

(Pan, bebida, postre y café)

Great, I wonder what the drink (bebida) and postre (dessert) really are.

Horario: 13:00-16:00 / 19:00-23:00 h

Interesting, late lunch and late supper.

OK, in the table below is the Spanish (my transcription from the chalkboard, with a few spell checks against Spanish dictionaries), this restaurant’s terse English and my translation (machine and human) and some comments:

Lentejas estofades Lentils stew of lentils (I suppose I can’t imagine lentils anyway except a stew)
Ensalada mixte Mixed Salad mixed salad
Puerros con vinagreta Leeks vinaigrette leeks with vinaigrette
Espagueti con atún Espeguetti with tuna (the writer doesn’t know spaghetti is the translation) spaghetti with tuna
Merluza en salsa Hake in sauce hake in sauce
Lacón con pimientos pork (illegible, not visible on chalkboard) pork shoulder
Huevos fritos con salchicha Fried eggs with sausage fried eggs with sausage
Fritos de pescado Fried eggs (illegible, all not visible on chalkboard, but what I can see is wrong) fried fish

These are all quite ordinary items so I’d choose:  Espagueti con atún (a bit of carbo loading if doing long walk) and Lacón con pimientos. I suppose this is all filling enough to make up for a moderate calorie burn of 200cals/mile and 15 miles. But think about, typical human needs about 2000 calories/day just to stay alive, so this meal is not going to provide enough of the daily + exercise requirements.

Hey Joost (from the movie The Way) what else did you eat and not lose any weight.




Back to some menus

On my virtual trek I’ve recently passed through a number of small towns, along the Camino route, and am now just a few miles outside Sahagún, which is large enough that it perhaps has some online menus. The small mom-and-pop places I recently passed along the Camino don’t have websites or don’t have online menus but there menus are simple. Often there are photos, sometimes even a photo of the menu which is small enough to be written on a blackboard. The dishes are simple and thus don’t represent any new information I can extract for my corpus.

So I went looking around for more interesting menus in this part of Spain. Even the larger towns don’t have much (Castile seems pretty empty, a lot like western Nebraska). But I did find the town of Palencia (the main town of the province of Palencia) had some menus to study. Then I stumbled on another in the town of Saldaña, which is 36km northeast of the Camino route. There I found Twisted House Restaurant, aka, La Casa Torcida.  This menu is interesting in that it has a Menú del Dia for each day of the week and for the weekend.  I’ve mentioned Menú del Dia before – it is a fixed price menu, typically of two courses (PRIMEROS PLATOS, SEGUNDOS PLATOS), plus some extras like bread (pan), drink (vino de la casa or agua) and dessert (postre). But the number of items each day is fairly small and most of the items are similar between days, as I’ll discuss below.

In looking at this restaurant and the few I’ve examined in Palencia it becomes clear that, a) knowing the regional cuisine) and, b) at least in this area, “local” matters and thus has to be part of the process of interpreting menus. In the USA the original “organic” foodie movement has largely been replaced by the “local” movement, i.e. restaurants and farmer’s market focus on food obtained nearby. Since most people in towns at most have small backyard gardens there is even the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where farmers may convert small plots to allow citizens to grown their own food. This is fun for foodies in the US but when I encounter this same effect in Spain it gets confusing in terms of extracting vocabulary from menus. What does this mean? So for instance this restaurant has several variations of:

alubias “blancas de Saldaña” con boletus y foie “Blancas de Saldaña” beans with boletus and foie gras
alubias “blancas d Saldaña” con almejas y langostinos “Blancas d Saldaña” beans with clams and prawns
alubias “blancas de Saldaña” con bogavante. “Blancas de Saldaña” beans with lobster.
alubias “blancas de Saldaña” con almejas “Blancas de Saldaña” beans with clams

The key part of this is  which simply means “local” food in the vicinity of Saldaña. alubias (beans) which are described in this blog post. Really they’re just white kidney beans that happen to be grown locally and probably are most indistinguishable from any other beans to anyone but an expert. But the restaurants likes to tell its customers they are getting the “local” product and probably residents believe their beans are somehow special. But to a trekker, is there any difference? So for these items on the daily menus it’s just a white bean stew/soup with various added proteins. In terms of translation what the traveler really needs to know is:  boletus  (a class of mushrooms),  foie (presumably classic goose liver),  almejas (clams), langostinos (prawns, probably not the Italian langoustine, aka. Norway lobster), and,  bogavante (lobster, possibly classic Maine lobster but inland in Palencia probably some lesser Atlantic lobster).

Another instance from the menu is:

garbanzos “fuentesauco“

garbanzos “d fuentesauco” con boletus

Here again fuentesauco is just a local reference to either Fuentesaúco (a municipality located in the province of Zamora, Castile and León) or Fuentesaúco de Fuentidueña (a municipality located in the province of Segovia, Castile and León), each of which has a Wikipedia entry but quite possibly are the same thing. Either way it’s just local chickpeas probably, again, indistinguishable to anyone but an expert.

So, recognizing these “local” references in menus (and not thinking it is some other term not translatable to English) allows reading the menus. But some of the other items on this menu raise more interesting questions (as to what the dish really is).

Now I’ll describe a dish that baffled Google Translate. But as I discovered (and this could be relevant like using a smartphone for translation) the structure of HTML caused problems for Google to parse (which words go together) and thus translate:

lechazo “de Castilla” recien asado letter from “Castilla” newly roasted chickened correct
lechazo “recien asado de Castilla” “recien asado de castilla” recipes
lechazo “recien asado de Castilla” recienated astillo de Castilla “
lechazo “recien asado” de Castilla “recien roasted” milk of Castilla
lechazo “recien asado” de Castilla “recien asado” cheese of Castile

You can see how much trouble Google had with this item, which eventually I realized was primarily due to parsing of the HTML (since Google then uses all the words found to translate as a group). None of these translations is vaguely right – there is no chicken, milk or cheese involved and recienated and astillo aren’t even words. And note that with four different identical items Google translates each differently.Perhaps the use of quotes messed up the Google parsing. But we can deconstruct this literally and figure it out.

First, asado is easy – it is simple ‘roasted’. This is a common term one should know, some restaurants even have asador (the verb) in their name. BTW, now I do see one of Google’s confusion, asadero is a type of cheese.  de Castilla simply is either another “local” reference (of Castile) or it is the style of (usually would be a la Castillia or Castellano). So it comes down to what is lechazo? We’ve seen this before and there is a connection to ‘milk’ (leche). Wikipedia considers this a dish (not an ingredient) but it really means an unweaned baby animal. When it’s a baby cow we’d call it veal but more likely this is referring to a piglet. That leaves recien as somewhat ambiguous. This could mean (literally) ‘recent’ but also might be a modifier ‘just’, as in ‘just roasted’. I can’t quite decide what I think this means (recently slaughtered, recently roasted, recently born?) but it really is just amplifying the idea of a young animal. Microsoft decided this meant “Lamb “de Castilla” freshly roasted”. But it’s simple small lamb or pig chops.

Now for a few other mystery items where the Google Translation was not very helpful.

volovanes de hojaldre rellenos de crema de setas y gambas volovanes  de hojaldre filled with cream of mushrooms and prawns

Again I think the HTML parsing was an issue since Google didn’t even translate volovanes (vol-au-vent; a small hollow case of puff pastry) and hojaldre (literally: puff-pastry, which is kinda redundant given the definition of vol-au-vent)

judias verdes con jamón green jews with ham

I’ve already found that judias is another term for beans that somehow historically was connected with the Jewish population in Spain and thus the source of Google’s confusion – this is just green beans.

crepes caseros de pollo salteado con verduras de la huerta chicken house creams salted  with vegetable vegetables

‘house’ is possibly translated from caseros but this usually means (and is common on menus) “home-made”. salteado is not salted (although Google’s translation can be understood, but it really should be sautéed but it’s not clear whether this applies to the chicken (pollo) or the vegetables (verduras). And the vegetable vegetables really means vegetables from the garden, perhaps another local reference, i.e. whatever vegetables are locally and seasonally available from some nearby garden (huerta). And crepes are crêpes not ‘creams’.

ensalada de la huerta con crujiente de cecina salad of the garden with crumbler of Cecina

Google didn’t translate cecina which Microsoft translated as ‘jerky’.  But jerky is probably not quite right as this could be any type of dried meat. Translating crujiente is usually crunchy but could also mean ‘crumbs’ (or basically we might say bits); IOW there is just some crumbled up dried meat added to the salad.

corral is used several places in this menu (huevo de corralpollo de corral) and has multiple translations with ‘yard’ or ‘barnyard’ as the most likely. IOW, in US this would just be ‘range’ or ‘free-range’, yet another foodie reference that is common today.  Google once somehow translated this as ‘cork’. Google also failed to translate picatostes which is probably best understand as ‘croutons’. Somehow Google decided puerros is ‘doors’ instead of the more likely ‘leeks’.

But one more that took some work:

medallones de rabo de buey deshuesado en su jugo bird meadows of bone deposited in its juice

Google’s translation is, frankly, nonsense. So it took me some work. Fortunately I’d encountered (and remembered) rabo de buey from elsewhere which really is easiest understood as ‘ox-tail’. deshuesado in this case is best understood as ‘de-boned’ or ‘boneless’, i.e. the bone has been removed. Then the remaining meat is sliced into medallions which most foodies would know are just thin slices. Microsoft got a lot closer with “medallions of ox tail boneless in its juice” but it put ‘boneless’ in the wrong place in the phrase.

And, finally (there are more, but I’ll end with this) is:

Sanjacobos de lomo rellenos de jamon y queso Sanjacobos de lomo filled with ham and cheese

where I eventually found:

A “San Jacobo” is a popular “merienda” (afternoon snack) or tapa in Spain. It consists of a slice of cheese between 2 slices of cooked ham, which is breaded and then fried.

Its name refers to Santiago-Jacobo-Yago, patron of the city of Basel , and the pilgrimage by Christians to his supposed grave in Santiago de Compostela (Galicia, Spain), Camino de Santiago.

The closest equivalent seems to be Cordon bleu, otherwise (although this dish usually lomo, almost certainly meaning pork loin instead of chicken in the classic French dish), perhaps, known as schnitzel or Monte Cristo sandwich. The Wikipedia article about Cordon bleu says:

A variant popular in the Asturias province of Spain is cachopo, a deep-fried cutlet of veal, beef or chicken wrapped around a filling of Serrano ham and cheese.[11] In Spain, the version made with chicken is often called san jacobo.

So this menu (or set of daily menus) presented some serious difficulties in machine translation. I’d assume most/some of these issues would appear if you were using a smartphone trying to decipher this menu. Of course if you were fluent in Spanish you could just ask for a description of these items. But all this shows the challenge I have of building a more effective menu translation tools. Not only do I need a large vocabulary and some smart parsing of menu items but I need to know all this “local” terminology (geographic references) and/or just some fairly extensive background of the cuisine of the various regions of Spain.

How I’ll put this menu (and my translations) into my corpus poses some interesting technical questions. And then, to avoid the common Google mistakes, which they think of as “context’, variations in the word order and/or extra words pose some real challenge to effective translation. Google says it’s translation is not dependent on syntax and grammar of a language but I believe my app has to be fairly smart about all this.

And finally this menu is good evidence of how much work I have to do. Almost every menu I try to decipher has some interesting peculiar bits to get an effective translation. This takes a lot of research and guessing and double-checking for my intelligence to get a reasonable answer – how do I code my thought processes in an app?

We’ll see but perhaps, Dear Reader, you can see what an interesting challenge this is.